Pinterest has been the the lastest shiny object for a couple of months. Maybe its the ease of use, or perhaps the visual nature of the site, but it has grown rapidly and substantial fanfare on the web. And like any new shiny objects it has had its champions and its detractors.
All of this was complicated by the business model of the site which had two unmentioned but really significant repercussions. One was the appropriation of affiliate link profits by Pinterest generated by any click through on something pinned to the site. This was a matter of some discussion, but was really not significant since most people who were busy “pinning” weren’t doing so in any anticipation of any financial return.
The second and more important issue in Pinterest’s terms of service was the liability for copyright infringement caused by any items pinned by site members. Pinterest, not unreasonably , wanted to avoid liability for any potential intellectual property litigation. They manner in which they did it created a stir. Essentially, anyone who pinned anything to Pinterest was absorbing the potential copyright issues, as well as assigning them a copyright on the “pinned” material.
According to their terms of service
“You acknowledge and agree that you are solely responsible for all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services. Accordingly, you represent and warrant that: (i) you either are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Cold Brew Labs the rights in such Member Content, as contemplated under these Terms; and (ii) neither the Member Content nor your posting, uploading, publication, submission or transmittal of the Member Content or Cold Brew Labs’ use of the Member Content (or any portion thereof) on, through or by means of the Site, Application and the Services will infringe, misappropriate or violate a third party’s patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other proprietary or intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy, or result in the violation of any applicable law or regulation.”
A lot of people didn’t see this coming. After all Pinterest is a site that is based around “pinning” and is set up so you can easily repin stuff. Though many of us weren’t paying attention in English class when we went to school, the people who knew the difference between “can” and “may” started dropping off of Pinterest like water off the roof in a rainstorm.
We are all more aware of intellectual property rights today than we were five or ten years ago. And as we publish and re-publish on sites like Pinterest, Facebook, Google+ , Tumblr and others, we need know more so that we can avoid the stress of cease and desist demands and potential litigation. Especially when the owners of those copyrights aren’t happy – like many of the photographers whose work is being pinned.
In an unusual twist, Amazon , who owns the servers where Pinterest lives, has reportedly just agreed to process DCMA notices concerning infringements by Pinterest users. An article on PaidContent quoted a site called Artists’ Bill of Right who seem to be a group of artists who have Pinterest squarely in their crosshairs.
It will be interesting to see how people balance their desire to use the site for business or pleasure against the potential downside of sharing material that you have no right to use. Its not the first time after all – YouTube and Twitter each had their own early copyright controversies, but it all worked out in the end. Under fire by a number of different sources, Pinterest may indeed change their copyright policy to insure their continued growth, but until that time comes, people will be “pinning” at their own risk.